And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.
Now, blessings light on him that first invented sleep! It covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak; it is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot. It is the current coin that purchases all the pleasures of the world cheap, and the balance that sets the king and the shepherd, the fool and the wise man, even. ~Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605
All men whilst they are awake are in one common world: but each of them, when he is asleep, is in a world of his own. ~Plutarch
I imagine that sleep is a gift for all, but some may disagree. They might attribute sleep to the just, the innocent and the carefree and argue that it is refused to many who would try to attain it. I propose, then, that it is meant for all, for health, rest, and restoration. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “New evidence shows that sleep is essential to helping maintain mood, memory, and cognitive performance. It also plays a pivotal role in the normal function of the endocrine and immune systems. In fact, studies show a growing link between sleep duration and a variety of serious health problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and depression.” Two of my family members were diagnosed with sleep apnea, one with the addition of Periodic Limb Movement Disorder. For each of them, a CPAP machine was prescribed. That’s a Constant Positive Air Pressure mask which blows air into their nose and mouth all night long to keep their airways open. How anyone could sleep with that thing on is a mystery to me.
The CPAP seems like a very scientific approach to something that may be more of a spiritual process. Sleep, relaxation, the natural cycle of repair and regeneration can be picked apart and studied, but will chasing it down and corralling its components help us to enter into its presence? If we approach it calmly and reverently, will we be more likely to be invited into its sanctuary? It seems like such a gentle grace, a benevolent angel of mercy. I’d be afraid to scare it off.
Many people contend with sleep. I do a bit. I gave up my super-comfy, air-controlled, king-sized bed to my daughter, and now I sleep on a futon mattress with a sleeping bag and a suede comforter tucked under the sheet to make it a bit more yielding. It’s not really the same, but I could do worse. I’ve always been a light sleeper, a result of having 4 children, but I’ve always gone to bed pretty early. I’m not good at sleeping late, and I do enjoy napping. Sleep is not elusive for me, simply delicious. And I dream.
I was thinking this morning that I live in two alternate universes, something like Plutarch mentions in the quote above. In the world of my sleeping dreams, my dead husband keeps popping up. He very calmly occupies a place beside me, and eventually in the course of the dream, I will mention that he’s supposed to be dead. Last night, he was driving when I mentioned it, and then suggested that I take the wheel. I have the feeling that he’s supposed to vanish when I say that word, but he didn’t. He just slid into the passenger side and kept talking. This is my brain working on “what’s right” and “what’s real” about death. I still don’t have it figured out. I have a lot of anxiety dreams that also have to do with this preoccupation of mine about “doing things right”. Performance anxiety is a big theme. I’m often onstage, backstage, in front of a classroom, or trying to get to a class. When I was married to Jim, the worst nightmares I had were about the two of us being angry or false with each other. I feared anything that would threaten our togetherness, and it was manifested in some social context. I never had a big monster carrying me off or something adventurous like that. I suppose you could call that a “girlie” nightmare. My son has huge, plot-driven adventures in his dreams. He’s got to fight, to battle and overcome in his dreams. I just get upset and wake up.
I did have a nightmare two nights ago. I had indigestion when I went to sleep, and I dreamed a horrible dream that ended in watching someone eat their own limbs. “Someone” in that weird way where you are everyone in your dream. So I was eating myself. It was unsettling for my brain. My stomach was already unsettled. Peculiar how the sleeping mind works. I do have a favorite phrase to throw in when someone is describing a dream. The disjointed narrative goes on and on, and then I interject, “Oh, I know that dream! Yeah, that all happens, and the next thing you know, the pope comes in with a tray of enchiladas and…” Yup. Absurdity. It’s pretty entertaining, really, this alternate universe.
I feel lucky to be able to sleep when I am tired, to dream when I am perplexed, to regenerate every night and wake to a new day each morning. Wagner describes it musically when Brunhilde wakes to Siegfried’s kiss. Listening to it is like going through the resurrection weeping tears of joy and wonder. Once again, music gives voice to life’s mysteries.
Well, the sun is shining through the west window making puddles of warmth on my bed. Think I’ll take a catnap.